International Week

During International Week last spring, Ohio University displayed flags representing the home countries of its international students on College Green. Photo by Terry Smith.

As is the case with several other public colleges in the state, Ohio University has significantly fewer international students on campus these days.

“The numbers have declined over the past few years,” Diane Cahill, OU’s director of International Services and Operations, confirmed in a recent  interview. “We had approximately 1,800 international students in 2013 and 2014, and the numbers have declined each year since 2014 to the current levels” – 1,150 students.

“Generally, Ohio’s experience with international student enrollment has reflected that of the United States during the same time frame,” Cahill said. “According to the Open Doors report published by the Institute of International Education, the highest increases in international student enrollment were during the 2013 and 2014 period. Since that time, the market has seen a contraction, with international student numbers increasing by 0.05 percent for 2019.”

The social and political climate in the United States under the Trump presidential administration and international competition are reasons for the big decreases, according to some experts.

Cahill puts it this way: “There are many reasons why international students may be pursuing their degrees in countries outside of the U.S., including concern about safety, immigration regulation changes and negative press, including stories about students being turned away at the border.”

She added, “There are more avenues for international students to complete a university degree than ever before. Not only have many countries aligned their education system with Western education systems to make their degrees more attractive, Australia and Canada have arisen as attractive alternatives to studying in the U.S.”

While enrollment from other countries has dropped at OU, it has gone up for one West African country.

“Ohio University does a good job of supporting students and has an extensive and engaged alumni base so that word of mouth about Ohio is strong,” said Cahill. “Thanks to this word of mouth and faculty engagement in Ghana, for example, we’ve seen an increase in the number of students from this country.”

Efforts to attract students from abroad to Ohio University have intensified, according to Candace Boeninger, interim vice provost for strategic enrollment management.

“We continue to expand our international recruitment efforts in all of our major markets,” said Boeninger. “We have added in-country representation in China, Malaysia, Vietnam and, more recently, India.”

These representatives work with schools, colleges, universities and educational agencies to recruit students who want to study in the U.S.

“Additionally, our international recruitment team based in Athens carefully plans recruitment travel in a variety of countries around the world, and we work to ensure prompt, thorough and welcoming follow-up with every student we meet on those trips,” Boeninger said. “We are working to increase not only the number of international students, but also the geographic diversity of that class of new students.”

At some other public universities in Ohio, international enrollment is down as well. Ohio State University has seen about a 2.5 percent decline compared to 2018, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The newspaper also reported that Kent State University saw a 48 percent decline in the last four years and the University of Akron almost 27 percent since three years ago.

But not all the numbers for Ohio are bad.

“Individual campuses may reflect different trends,” acknowledged Jeff Robinson of the Ohio Department of Higher Education. There are 14 public universities in the state.

Over the last decade, he said, referring to Ohio, “…The total number of international students at all public universities… has increased, aside from (a) small drop in 2018.”

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